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Athirat: God’s Wife?

Athirat, or Asherah, whom the above clay figurine is thought to depict, was said to be the consort of the gods El, and sometimes Ba‘al, and may have later been known as consort of the god Yahweh.
Athirat, or Asherah, whom the above clay figurine is thought to depict, was said to be the consort of the gods El, and sometimes Ba‘al, and may have later been known as consort of the god Yahweh.

Athirat, also known as Asherah, is a mother goddess called “creatrix of the gods” and “she who treads on the sea.” She is one of the contenders for the title “Queen of Heaven” and was said to be the consort of the high god El, and later Ba‘al. William G. Dever’s book Did God Have a Wife? suggests that Asherah was Yahweh’s consort in Israelite folk religion—not too surprising since Yahweh apparently merged with El and Ba‘al over the years.

In Exodus 34:13, Yahweh tells Moses that as part of the covenant he is making with the Israelites, Yahweh will be driving various peoples out of the “promised land” on the Israelites’ behalf, and they must destroy altars, images, and “Asherah poles” they find there:

Exodus 34:11 Observe thou that which I command thee this day: behold, I drive out before thee the Amorite, and the Canaanite, and the Hittite, and the Perizzite, and the Hivite, and the Jebusite.

12 Take heed to thyself, lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land whither thou goest, lest it be for a snare in the midst of thee:

13 But ye shall destroy their altars, break their images, and cut down their groves [Asherah poles]:

14 For thou shalt worship no other god: for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God:

15 Lest thou make a covenant with the inhabitants of the land, and they go a whoring after their gods, and do sacrifice unto their gods, and one call thee, and thou eat of his sacrifice;

16 And thou take of their daughters unto thy sons, and their daughters go a whoring after their gods, and make thy sons go a whoring after their gods.

Many Bible translations replace groves in verse 13 above with Asherahs/Asherim or Asherah poles. Although historians know that Asherah poles were sacred and that they were placed at Canaanite sacred sites in order to honor Asherah, they do not know what, exactly, they were. Based on repeated biblical instructions to cut them down, and use the wood for burnt offerings to Yahweh, the supposition is that the Asherah was made of wood — either a pole, or a living tree, or a grove of trees.

Asherah Poles
Asherah Poles

According to The Oxford Companion To World Mythology (David Leeming, Oxford University Press, 2005, page 118), “It seems almost certain that the God of the Jews evolved gradually from the Canaanite El, who was in all likelihood the ‘God of Abraham’… If El was the high god of Abraham — Elohim, the prototype of Yahveh mdash; Asherah was his wife, and there are archeological indications that she was perceived as such before she was in effect ‘divorced’ in the context of emerging Judaism of the seventh century B.C.E. (See 2 Kings 23:15).”